The American Film Institute lists – an introduction to a hundred years of cinema history.

One of my favorite sites is the American Film Institute’s web page.  There’s a wealth of information in a number of different forms.

Checking out the video page is a good place to start.  Here you can find Alfred Hitchcock discussing Mastering Cinematic Tension,  Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski discussing working with director Steven Spielberg, Gary Ross discussing writing the screenplay and much, much more. One of the great strengths of the site is that there are so many film professionals working in so many different roles who discuss both their individual professional skills and their personal love of film as a means of expression.

Another way to access the videos is to visit the AFI channel on Youtube

Probably the most fun resource at the AFI site; however, are the film lists.  Although creating lists of top films may not represent the most serious form of film scholarship, the lists are great jumping-off points for discussing film history and film theory.  One of the most important questions presented in section 2 of the syllabus is, “How did you know?”  This is a serious problem for our students who have to become comfortably familiar with over a hundred years of movie history.   After all, ancient history to them is pretty much anything that happened before they were born.

The movie lists – generated by the AFI’s membership of film professionals, critics, and historians – present a capsule look at history by an informed audience and a possible road map for students interested in becoming more familiar with film.  At the very least, they’ll provide good prompts for film discussion and argument.

AFI’s first list – 100 YEARS, 100 MOVIES is a ranked list of the top American films of all time.  It’s conservative, and misses out most of the great films of world cinema of course, but it’s a great starting point for discussing American film and those qualities that might form the basis for choosing ‘the best.’

In 2007, the list was re-created.


Honoring the 10th anniversary of this award-winning series, a jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians determined that CITIZEN KANE remains the greatest movie of all time. RAGING BULL and VERTIGO cracked the top 10, while THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, THE SIXTH SENSE and TITANIC are among films to make it on the list for the first time.”

Discussing why films stayed on the list and why films were added creates a sense of the on-going nature of cinema theory and history.  The evaluation of individual works changes with time and perspective, as in the evaluation of any work of art.  Discussing the list and the changes to it also allows students to contrast their own personal sense of cinema with that of the film artists, critics, and historians who created the list.  The point, after all, is not whether CITIZEN KANE really is the greatest movie of all time, but why it might be considered so.

There’s also a Top 100 tour – an interactive tour of the list

One of the latest, and most useful lists, is AFI’s 10 top 10 which looks at the top ten movies in ten genres.

The genres are animation, romantic comedy, western, sports, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, gangster, courtroom drama, and epic.  While some of the categories might better be described as ‘traditions’ and while some very important genres have been left out (though some – like the Musical – have their own lists on the site), these lists still represent a nice introduction to genre theory. As well, each of the entries on the list has a series of short videos with trailers and with AFI members discussing the film.

The complete set of lists includes movie musicals, great movie quotes, the top 100 stars and much more.   They’re well worth checking out, and if they aren’t serious film scholarship, they are a lot of fun and an easy way to introduce students to the idea of reflecting upon and evaluating completed film texts.

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